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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Jane Austen was not “fos” about Mrs. Reynolds being “fos” about Darcy’s character in Pride & Prejudice

In Austen-L and Janeites today, Diane Reynolds wrote the following about her (accidental) fictional namesake: "and then ... if we want to believe the subtextual reading that Wickham is not precisely lying and Mrs. Reynolds (the housekeeper, not moi!) is fos, the screw turns yet again...”  

Diane, it took me two minutes to realize what you meant by "fos" --at first, I thought that might be "false" in Dutch, or something innocent like that, and then it hit me, you were using text-speak, and I was, so to speak, ROFLMAO! was SO Austenesque of you, because I believe part of your concealed meaning was that we know for sure that if JA had lived in the era of text-messaging, she would have viewed it as a veritable gold-mine for wordplay of all sorts, where the dirty meaning would be concealed just enough from innocent eyes, while knowing eyes would understand!

And….to turn to your substantive comment about Mrs. Reynolds, as, in slightly more polite terms, lying through her teeth in verbally painting a too-glowing-to-be-true portrait of her master (just as her intentional namesake, Joshua Reynolds, as my posts last month illustrated, was very much of a panderer to the pedophilic leanings of his most lucrative patron, the perverted Duke of Dorset at Knole), I will repeat the relevant portion of what i posted just the other day about the covert allusion to Lovers Vows which I detected in Pride & Prejudice, which PROVES that Jane Austen meant for Mrs. Reynolds's praise to be plausibly interpretable in two OPPOSITE ways!:

So as we are now talking about the young Baron Wildenhaim, you may reasonably ask, what does that aristocratic young cad have to do with another Austen novel besides Mansfield Park? Well, if you pored over that passage as carefully as I did, your Janeite eyes should have paused and then widened several times with recognition at the following statements by Cottager and his Wife, in describing the young Baron Wildenhaim:

First, Cottager, who tries to put a positive spin on the Baron’s behavior and so says: “…We regretted his absence much, and his arrival has caused great joy … when he became an officer, he was rather wild, as most young men are…….

And second, Cottager’s Wife, who feels guilty about glossing over ugly truths about the Baron, even as she still loves him. So, under pressure from her  husband, she first says: “…he, bless him, our good Baron is still the same as when a boy….”  But then, overriding her husband’s censorship—he perhaps fearing reprisal from his master, the Baron--she courageously follows her conscience and blurts out her true feelings:
“Yes, I remember when he fell in love with poor Agatha, Friburg's daughter:  WHAT A PIECE OF WORK THAT WAS--It did not do him much credit.  That was a wicked thing…. it was very wicked!”

Do you hear the Austenian echoes now? I think they’re obvious! But if not, just compare the above quoted snippets spoken by Cottager’s Wife in particular to the following statements made by ANOTHER plain spoken old woman of low status living near a great estate, whose words, unlike Cottager’s Wife’s, you probably know by heart:

"He is now gone into the army," she added; "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."

["Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?" ] "Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here…”

"I have never known a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old…But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world."

Of course these are all the famous words of Mrs. Reynolds in P&P, and I think you will agree that there are just too many points of correspondence between Cotttager’s Wife’s words and Mr. Reynolds’s words to be a coincidence, ESPECIALLY when we take into account that Mrs. Norris speech shows us that JA was alert to usages of Hamlet’s famous phrase in Lover’s Vows, and so would have actually read the above quoted descriptions provided by Inchbald.

For  starters, Mrs. Reynolds is speaking to Lizzy who has just arrived in the vicinity of Darcy’s great estate, just as Agatha is then for the first time in twenty years within a stone’s throw (as in the stone  Frederick threatens to cast at the inhospitable landlord).

But….what’s very VERY strange indeed is that Cottager’s Wife descriptions of the Baron which I have quoted above seem to correspond to Mrs. Reynolds’s descriptions of BOTH Darcy AND Wickham!

So why did JA go out of her way to have Mrs. Reynolds, like some master Chef in Wonderland, cut the character of the Baron in half, and sprinkle the good parts on Darcy, but the bad ones on Wickham? The very absurdity of that image made me realize that I had been reminded (and I am sure, NOT coincidentally) of the following two very famous comments by Lizzy about Darcy and Wickham:

"This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Darcy's; but you shall do as you choose."

"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it."

JA might just as well have added the name “Baron Wildenhaim” to both of these epigrams, it’s so clear that they are her winks in his specific direction!

And I promise this is not the last you will hear from me on this subject, and in particular my explanation for why Mrs. Reynolds seems to speak about BOTH the Darcy and the Wickham in the wicked Baron Wildenhaim (or should I have written WICKenHAM?) –to say nothing about the Frederick Wentworth in Frederick Fribourg!  ;)

I could go on for pages setting forth my own interpretations of the significance of this lopping and cropping of Cottager’s Wife’s speeches about the Baron. However, beyond making the simple point that I consider this to provide extraordinarily strong support for my claim that P&P (like all of JA’s novels) is a double story, for now I will leave it to let you, gentle readers, to draw your own inferences.

So thanks again, Diane, for providing the perfect context for the above.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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